Elements of Visual Design in the Film Moonlight: [Essay Example], 1204 words (2023)

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There comes a moment when you have to stand up for your sexuality and identity. In the movie Moonlight by Barry Jenkins, Chiron, the main character, is presented through the three stages of his life as a gay African American male living in Liberty City, Miami, Florida. We are introduced to Chiron’s youth, nicknamed “Little”, running away from a group of bullies and eventually hiding in a drug house. This opening signals the difficulties he faces with his sexuality and identity but Juan, a neighboring drug dealer with his girlfriend, Theresa, offers guidance and support as a father figure. The next chapter features Chiron as a high school teenager who juggles avoiding school bully Terrel, spending time with Theresa, his mother’s increasing drug addiction and prostitution, all the while exploring his own sexuality and identity with Kevin. Lastly, an adult Chiron, known as “Black”, becomes a drug dealer in Atlanta after juvie for assaulting Terrel. He appears financially well off but unsatisfied until meeting Kevin at his diner, eventually going to his apartment embracing an intimate queer relationship. While the plot proves for a strong base, the cinematography is what really makes the film stand out, winning an Oscar for Best Picture. Rather than employing a realist, documentary style, Moonlight is filled with elements of visual design such as contrast, color, camera angles, lighting, and slow-motion that immerses the audience in a dreamlike setting. Furthermore, the usage of costumes, props, motifs, and realistic setting of Miami allows viewers to make connections between scenes and grasp the feel of authenticity. While these elements of visual design can be primarily found in four essential scenes: Juan bringing Little back home, the crashing of the waves, Paula scolding Little, and the diner scene, they are also used throughout the movie for the audience to make connections and gain an authentic feel.

One of the main visual design elements in Moonlight is in contrast. Contrast is the difference in luminance or color that makes an object or its representation in an image or display distinguishable. Throughout the film, only a single light source such as Miami’s sun was used without any fill light. Consequently, this created visually aggressive contrast particularly seen in the character’s faces as light falls off into the shadows. When Juan brings Little back home and talks with Paula, the shot shows Juan with a background of tropical palm trees. Juan’s skin tone looks distinctive as the mid-tones are pulled-out and blue is added to the blacks, creating a thicker color. Furthermore, this scene depicts Juan with a do-rag, diamond earrings, gold fronts, and a dashboard crown. These costumes and props are significant because they defined Juan’s masculinity and hardness as a drug dealer. In chapter three when Chiron assumes Juan’s role as a drug dealer while also embracing his gay relationship with Kevin, Jenkins reconciles that queerness and masculinity can and do coexist.

The crashing of the waves scene features Juan teaching Little how to swim. As Juan beckons him to join, the camera stays with Chiron, holding on him, pushing in as he decides on what to do. The subtle camera moves display Little’s desire to join Juan but he hesitates, afraid to make himself vulnerable. Once he is in the water, Juan held Chiron, keeping him afloat until he was able to do so himself against the crashing waves. This creates a strong analogy: Juan is not just teaching Little to swim, he is showing him how to take charge of himself, how to stay afloat. During this scene, there’s jump-cutting between the shots of Little getting the hang of it and beginning to enjoy himself. The use of the jump cut is to draw attention to young Chiron, who seems to gain a sense of individual freedom.

The next scene shows Paula scolding Little as a pink light emanates from her bedroom. While the pink aura does not necessarily match the dark and intense mood of the scene, it plays to the audiences’ emotions by rounding out Paula’s personality. Although she’s obviously frustrated by Chiron’s sexuality and identity, pink as the universal color of loving oneself allows us to feel empathy for Paula as she is dealing with her own problems of drug addiction and prostitution. This scene is also an example of a formalism style where filmmaking tools deliberately alter our perception of the movie. The use of slow-motion draws attention to Paula and makes the scene memorable as Chiron is constantly reminded of his mother’s disapproval.

The diner scene is when Kevin and Black are reacquainted with each other after many years. Because there was not much dialogue, lighting, camera angles, and eye contact were purposefully used to portray the scene’s message. As Black approaches the diner, lighting is used in the form of a blueish moonlight, casting dappled shadows on him. This creates more of an upscale look, visually differentiated from other scenes. Inside the diner consisted of a practical set lighting: amber colors from the hanging lamps gave off the warm cue on the casts’ faces, signaling softness. The lighting used in the diner scene orients the audience to connect familiar experiences with those in the scene. Next, it was important for the diner scene to be shot with close lenses at eye level rather than at a high or low angle. At a high angle, the character would appear subordinate like a child while at a low angle, they would appear large like a bully. Shooting with close lenses at eye level gives the audience a realistic and personal feel, bringing them into the conversation. Lastly, eye contact primarily served as a form of facial expression to confront the audience in emotional moments. In this case, it was to convey Black and Kevin’s intimate relationship despite years apart.

In addition to the four scenes, visual design was portrayed through the entire film through motifs. The color blue serves as a motif throughout the film, symbolizing the trust between Little and Juan, whose nickname was once “Blue”. It also serves as a connection between Chiron and Kevin as their tryst occurred in front of the blue ocean under the blue moonlight. And in the last scene, the two are holding each other by the bluish light of the moon embracing their sexuality and identity. Furthermore, the setting of Liberty City, Miami, Florida played a vital role in Moonlight’s visual design. Liberty City is historically a black community where the majority of residents live below the poverty line. This coupled with Barry Jenkin and Tarrell Alvin McCraney’s similar poor experience of living there provided a genuine storyline and authentic sensibility that captures the viewers’ support.

While Moonlight is undoubtedly a Black film featuring its all-black cast, it is not only for Black people or gay people. This movie is about a young child struggling to find acceptance of his own identity with little solace from his mother. Despite the dangers his journey entails, his longing for freedom is powerful and the visual design elements of the film help broadcast this theme. Barry Jenkins and Tarrell Alvin McCraney have made a very defining and bold film while employing humanizing factors through contrast, color, camera angles, lighting, slow motion, motifs, costumes, props, etc.


How is lighting used in moonlight? ›

From the opening of the scene, as Chiron approaches the diner, lighting is at play. Laxton placed lights within a tree to cast dappled shadows on the character as he walked beneath, creating entirely new visual interest from the very first second. Outside the diner, the bulbs were changed to give a more blue hue.

How does Moonlight use cinematography to construct its narrative? ›

The film is driven by the internal conflicts of the characters, instead of a plot. To communicate this in a visual manner, the camera frames the subjects such that they fill up the majority of the screen, thus drawing us into their emotional landscapes.

What is the plot of moonlight? ›

What structural format does Moonlight use? ›

“Moonlight's” three-act dramatic structure was most interesting because it told Chiron's story through three different time periods. Although linear, we grew up with Chiron through intercuts, never seeing him in between the three acts as he went from boy, to teenager, to man.

How is color used in moonlight? ›

Easily the color that is most noticeably present throughout the film is blue. Indeed, the colorist for the film, Alex Bickel, deliberately used a variety of filters in the editing process for the film to deepen the blues to the point where they appear nearly luminescent.

How does moonlight affect colors? ›

Moonlight has a color temperature of 4100K, while sunlight has a higher color temperature of more than 5000K. But objects illuminated by moonlight don't look yellower to the eye. They look bluer. This holds for indoor scenes (like my hall) and for outdoor.

What is the main message of Moonlight? ›

Moonlight is a symbol of one's innermost self. It is under the blue moonlight that people discover who they truly are and their hidden desires. The entire movie has been about Chiron's search for identity, and he has done so at the beach under the moonlight, sharing physical and emotional intimacy with Kevin.

What are the two main elements of cinematography? ›

Cinematography comprises all on-screen visual elements, including lighting, framing, composition, camera motion, camera angles, film selection, lens choices, depth of field, zoom, focus, color, exposure, and filtration.

What style of film is Moonlight? ›

The resulting film, Moonlight (2016), was, as Jenkins described it, a “hood-arthouse coming-of-age LGBT drama” that visits the protagonist at three different points in his life—as a child, as a teen, and as an adult. The hauntingly beautiful and eloquent movie won the Academy Award for best picture.

What are the three parts of Moonlight? ›

“Moonlight,” the film is divided into three parts “little,” “Shiron,” and “Black.” The film paced by following the life of a character who is just a boy, black and queer, and who feels like he is not loved.

What is the climax and resolution of Moonlight? ›

Chiron finally confesses that Kevin was the only one who has ever touched him, and that Chiron never felt content or happy exploring that part of his identity. The two reconcile, and this “confession” from Chiron feels like climax and resolution all in one – a man accepting himself for the first time.

What is special about Moonlight? ›

A moonlit stroll is starkly different from a walk in the sunshine. Moonlight's dark, spooky quality contrasts with the clarity of sunlight. And while it may not grow hair on your face, we can't help but notice the blacker shadows, blurred details, and lack of color in the landscape on a moonlit night.

Who controls the narrative in Moonlight? ›

The Main Character Throughline

The focus of Moonlight rests predominantly on Chiron himself. Weighted by Throughline, the Main Character Throughline accounts for almost 75% of the thematic exploration compared to a paltry 3% for the Objective Story Throughline.

What aspect ratio is Moonlight? ›

2.39 : 1

What does water symbolize in moonlight? ›

Here, the duality of water feels clear: It represents both freedom and danger. Chiron is discovering who he is, while realizing also what that means; this is rendered most clearly in the final shot of the movie, which flashes back to Little staring out at the ocean, simultaneously drawn to it and afraid of its power.

What does white represent in moonlight? ›

Little wears a white shirt, signifying his innocence, and a blue backpack—implying that perhaps Juan may see a little of himself in the frightened young boy.

How do you describe the color the moon? ›

What color is the Moon? It depends on the night. Outside of the Earth's atmosphere, the dark Moon, which shines by reflected sunlight, appears a magnificently brown-tinged gray. Viewed from inside the Earth's atmosphere, though, the moon can appear quite different.

How does moonlight reflect light? ›

Unlike a lamp or our sun, the moon doesn't produce its own light. Moonlight is actually sunlight that shines on the moon and bounces off. The light reflects off old volcanoes, craters, and lava flows on the moon's surface. Visit the Ask Dr.

How does moonlight make you feel? ›

Still, exposure to moonlight can lead to feelings of awe and peace, along with a greater sense of connection to the universe.

What does black represent in Moonlight? ›

Blue, of course, symbolizes younger Chiron and his relationship with Juan, whose nickname was once Blue; it also calls to mind Chiron's relationship with Kevin, as their tryst occurred in front of the blue ocean. Black also symbolizes the new, "hard" persona that Chiron has adopted in adulthood.

What is the central conflict of Moonlight? ›

Moonlight is more about Chiron's journey to find out who he is: a black man who struggles to come to terms with his sexuality in a society that constantly challenges him and at times out-right rejects him.

What lesson does Chiron learn in Moonlight? ›

Letting people into his life to form meaningful relationships allows Chiron to experience love, and he must learn to accept and give love as well. As Juan teaches Chiron swimming techniques and eventually lets him try on his own, he also learns to take care of himself.

What are the design elements of a movie? ›

Under the heading of design, all the elements of a picture's setting may be included—art direction, scenic composition, set design, costume, and makeup.

What are examples of film elements? ›

What are the key elements involved:
  • Film Type.
  • Shots.
  • Camera Angles.
  • Lighting.
  • Color.
  • Sound or Audio.
  • Editing.
  • Mise-en-Scene.
3 Mar 2021

What are the 5 most important elements in filming? ›

With that in mind, here are the 5 most powerful elements of cinematography that you should be incorporating in all of your projects:
  • Exposure. One of the first things to consider when creating a shot is the exposure. ...
  • Composition. ...
  • Camera Movement. ...
  • Camera Angles. ...
  • Color.
2 Jul 2020

What is the color temperature of Moonlight? ›

However, the apparent color temperature of moonlight is actually cooler than broad daylight. On a clear day, the sun shines at around 5000K. Moonlight usually appears to be around 4100K.

What lens does Moonlight use? ›

Moonlight was shot on ARRI Alexa XT in Pro Res 444 using Vantage Hawk Scope and Kowa anamorphic lenses. "The story is very intimate but we wanted to present it in a large way," Laxton explains. "Anamorphic lenses and the Alexa gave us that starting point."

Who is the main character in Moonlight? ›


What does the ending of Moonlight mean? ›

That final shot of him on the beach, as a boy, tells the audience that he is — hopefully – finding a way to better understand and accept himself, by finally reconnecting with Kevin in the film's closing moments, pointing toward a hopefully more emotionally open future.

What was the effect of the Moonlight in the room? ›

The bright silverly moonlight in Abou's room on a peaceful night had a magical effect. The room appeared rich and calm. The comparison is made to reflect the similarities between blossoming lily and the sparkling moonlight. The flwer and the moonlight both are natural, beautiful and pleasing to the eyes.

What does the ending shot of Moonlight mean? ›

The ending scene shows that Chiron has accepted who he really is. The little boy is no longer afraid or running away from bullies. The beach plays an important part in Chiron's memories for two main reasons: Juan and Kevin. When Chiron was little, Juan used to take him to the beach and teach him how to swim.

How do you describe moonlight in creative writing? ›

The moon, a glowing yellowy white, loomed large, surrounded by an ethereal glow. Millions of stars were sprinkled behind it, a few large ones but mostly a multitude of little white pin pricks. Every now and then, a twinkle caught her eye.

What is another word for moonlight? ›

What is another word for moonlight?
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What kind of light is moonlight? ›

Unlike a lamp or our sun, the moon doesn't produce its own light. Moonlight is actually sunlight that shines on the moon and bounces off. The light reflects off old volcanoes, craters, and lava flows on the moon's surface. Visit the Ask Dr.

What can be used to create a moonlight effect? ›

To create moonlight, landscape lighting designers use a particular type of downlighthing. Lights are placed as high up as possible, hidden in trees or on other tall landscape features. Using a light with a wide spread, the light is directed downward to cover a wide area, just like moonlight.

How is lighting used to create mood in the play? ›

The intensity and brightness of the light used can also dictate the mood of the play. Very low levels of lighting, for example, impart a mysterious feel to a space, and might involve placing the actors in shadow or half-light.

How do you make light look like moonlight? ›

To achieve this look, take a daylight-balanced light that's a little bluer than daylight (with the color temperature of around 6000K). Then, place a 1/4 green gel over the light. It seems counterintuitive, but this mixing of blue and green will give you the silvery look and make the simulated moonlight look natural.

What does moonlight symbolize? ›

Moonlight is a symbol of one's innermost self. It is under the blue moonlight that people discover who they truly are and their hidden desires.

What is special about moonlight? ›

A moonlit stroll is starkly different from a walk in the sunshine. Moonlight's dark, spooky quality contrasts with the clarity of sunlight. And while it may not grow hair on your face, we can't help but notice the blacker shadows, blurred details, and lack of color in the landscape on a moonlit night.

Can you use moonlight to make energy? ›

Electricity Generated by Your Solar Panels at Night Is Minimal. Seeing as moonlight is just sunlight reflected off of the moon, you will be happy to hear that the answer is yes: solar panels do technically work with moonlight.

How do you make a sad mood with light? ›

If you're going for subtle sadness, use dimmer light, so that you still get those shadows but they're not so intense. Or, if you want true tragedy and despair, use intense lighting and focus it on a very particular side-section of the subject to get those extremely harsh shadows that emphasise sorrow.

How does lighting create suspense? ›

Suspense can also be created through the use of under-lighting and backlighting. Positioning the key light underneath or slightly to the side of an actor creates ominous shadows across their face. This is particularly useful when you're characterising a villain.

How do you describe lighting in film? ›

What is lighting in film? Film lighting refers to the direction, quality, source, or colour of light. These different elements work together to guide our attention, create texture or visual impact, and create an atmosphere. The direction of light refers to the path where the light source comes from and where it lands.

How can lighting impact the audience? ›

Lighting can highly affect the mood of a film, just like it can affect photography. It can help the audience understand what they are supposed to be feeling. And it can help us see a character in a different light – literally. Alternatively, bad lighting can ruin the emotion of a movie.

How does the moonlight night look? ›

From Earth, the apparent magnitude of the full Moon is only about 1⁄380,000 that of the Sun. The color of moonlight, particularly around full moon, appears bluish to the human eye compared to other, brighter light sources due to the Purkinje effect. The blue or silver appearance of the light is an illusion.

Is moonlight hard or soft light? ›

Many people think that the moon is a soft source because it is dim. However, the moon is actually a hard source and casts a hard shadow. You can see this illustrated in photos by David Mullen, ASC. He took these photos at night at a high ISO to demonstrate the light quality of moonlight.

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